Is Grass the Culprit of Cushings Disease
 By Winniefield Park   •   21st Nov 2014   •   4,547 views   •   0 comments
Is Grass the Culprit of Cushings

A few years ago, I belonged to a forum where there were lots of interesting discussions. One discussion focused on why some horses develop Cushing's, laminitis and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. The consensus was, grass was the problem.

I disagreed. Grass is a horseís natural food. Their teeth and digestive system are designed to extract the nutrients they need out of a plant material that is very fibrous and hard to digest and rather low in nutrition compared to many other plant foods. Thatís why a horseís digestive system is very long, and they spend much of their time eating. Humans can get a lot of nutrition from a healthy meal eaten in minutes, horses canít. I felt there must be more to it than simply Ďgrass is bad for horsesí.

The main concern when feeding a horse prone to Cushingís (Pars Pituitary Intermedia Dysfunction), or EMS is the amount of sugar in its food. These diseases are connected to insulin resistance, when the cells arenít able to use the hormone insulin, and regulate the level of sugar in the blood. The nutritional value of grass changes depending on soil quality, weather and the season.

But wild horses, who eat nothing but grass all year round, donít seem to be in danger of developing metabolic problems like our backyard horses do. I searched for incidences of insulin resistance, Cushingís and laminitis in wild horses, but didnít find any substantial information.

So I think there may be three factors when it comes to metabolic diseases: the horse, the horseís activity level, and the quality of its feed.

Itís known that there are specific breeds and types of horses that are more likey to get Cushingís and the like. Morgans, Quarter Horses and ponies are often on the Ďmost likely listí. These breeds could be categorized as Ďeasy keepersí and layer on fat easily. That doesnít mean a leaner, harder to keep Thoroughbred wonít get a metabolic disease. Itís just more unlikely. Thereís not much we can do about horses that are inclined to be insulin resistant, unless we just want to stop producing those breeds. Thatís not going to happen. But activity level and feed quality can be controlled.

Related: A Honey of a Pony

Wild horses are always on the move, searching for food and water. Even in humans, exercise improves insulin resistance. Most of our horses have an easy life, often doing little more than walking back and forth between the round bale and the water trough. So, instead of just leaving our horses idle, itís better if they get exercise.

And while wild horses are always travelling, the food they find may vary greatly in quantity and quality. It will be plentiful and rich sometimes, and sparse and poor others. They will gain weight over the summer, and lose weight as pasture declines in the colder months. Our own horses have a plentiful supply all year around. This may be ideal horse care, but it probably isnít natural. The problems are the horses we breed and the way we keep them. Grass isnít really the culprit at all.

So what do you think?

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